The Devils today posted a recap of the recent interview former player Bobby Holik did with their “Speak of the Devils” podcast. The recap comes from their official app.
Holik was a member of the 1995 and 2000 Stanley Cup-winning Devils teams. He also spent time, during an 18-year NHL career with the Hartford Whalers, Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers.
But Holik – a favorite of my brother’s growing up – spent a lot of the conversation focusing on where he came from, most literally.
He spoke to Amanda Stein and Matt Laughlin about his arrival in the United States in 1990 as a 19-year-old first round pick of the Whalers. He came over from Czechoslovakia, which at that time was living under the yoke of Communism as a satellite nation to the Soviet Union.
Around that time, more and more players from the Eastern Bloc were coming to North America to play in the NHL.
Holik was one of those players and told Stein and Laughlin that “people just forget, because they’ve had it for so good, that this country has meant so much for people like me, and my parents, not that they live here, but their son and daughter ended up living here and pursuing their opportunities and chances in life, and much different than it would be in Czechoslovakia under communism.”
Holik would eventually become a naturalized American citizen, as Stein points out in her recap, in Newark, New Jersey in 1996.
Stein describes that when Holik first came to the US, landing in Boston Logan International Airport in 1990 after being drafted by Hartford, he was prepared by his parents “despite [his parents] not quite knowing what they were preparing him for exactly. He was traveling to the United States on his own, stepping into a whole new culture.”
Holik told the hosts: “I’m not trying to sound like an old man or old-fashioned immigrant, but I literally landed […] with a pair of skates and a bad polyester suit. That’s all I had with me. But I had a work ethic, and I had skills and discipline. And I was determined to succeed.”
He continued on, saying that “it was absolutely phenomenal opportunity. That’s all it was. You know, I always go back to what I was talking about earlier, it’s not about what you get. But as long as you get the opportunities, what you do with the opportunities is another story.”
Stein mentioned that Holik was a two-time All-Star who played 11 of his 18 years in the NHL with the Devils. But even he needed to adjust to the league and life in North America.
He told Stein and Laughlin: “I have to give my parents a lot of credit, because they prepared me extremely well, not knowing what they were preparing me for. So, I was from day one, I never had a day or moment where I was looking back or longing for the time has passed. There were doubters, not I, but there were doubters. And I said, you know, what, they’re gonna try to stop me. And at the time was just the end of the Cold War, and there was a lot of dissent towards the Eastern Europeans. And people say, ‘Oh, it was tough for me’, I’m like, ‘you don’t understand. People called me an effing communist, not knowing that my dad was one of the most staunch anti-communists in the history of Czechoslovakia. So, the prejudice was part of it, but I looked at it as a challenge.”
That led into a discussion on what Holik is doing with his life these days. Stein reported that he is using his life lessons “to help the next generation of young men in the world. He now works with young men near his home in Wyoming to mentor them and bring out their fullest potential. It isn’t so much through hockey that he’s invested himself, he works with all kinds of young men, from first-responders, firemen, a variety of athletes that he has crossed paths with.”
Holik elaborated: “That’s what I teach the young men today, when people doubt you, they disrespect you for whatever it is, take it as a challenge to prove them wrong. And my motto was, I’m just going to be too good to be denied […] It’s been wonderful, and all I’m doing is trying to make a difference.”
Strong words from a strong man.
Which brings me to the real reason I am writing this post.
Over the weekend, my Uncle, who has been a big supporter of the blog since day one (he often jokes that he subscribes to the “analog” print version – as he is not really into technology and I would often mail him some of the posts through snail mail so he could read them) had a heart attack.
He was running on a trail in Sussex County, New Jersey when he suffered the heart attack. A bicyclist found him unconscious on the side of the trail and called the police. They responded quickly and got him to the hospital. Words cannot describe how grateful my family and I are to the bicyclist and to the police and first responders.
He is a marathon runner, so his heart survived the ensuing surgery to put a stent in. We are now just waiting to hear word on how his brain – which was without oxygen for a time – is doing.
Please, if you are reading this, keep him in your thoughts and prayers. My parents and my Uncle, much like Bobby Holik’s, taught me to work hard no matter what job you are doing. It is that work ethic that those three people instilled in me (as well as my brother and sister) that keeps me going on this blog.
My Uncle is an inspiration, and his work ethic is legendary. I am actually writing this from my home office that he, myself, my Dad and my brother built (although I think Dad, my brother and myself would all agree that it was my Uncle who did the majority of the heavy lifting.
As I said, keep my Uncle in your thoughts and prayers if you are reading this and we all hope he has a speedy recovery.